Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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~ 10 Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday ~

For many people, the holidays are stressful. So…

  1. Go into the holiday season with the understanding that you have to be nicer to other people during this time, both for them and for you. We need to be cognizant that people are operating at a higher stress level during the holidays. When most people stress, they become more sensitive to the words and actions of others. Well-intended and humorous comments that might otherwise be laughed off or considered good-natured ribbing can be perceived as hurtful.Goal: Be more sensitive to the needs of others during the holidays.
  2. Temper your expectations. People have unrealistic goals for the holidays. Yes, we’d all love homes that look like magazine covers, and a family dynamic that harmoniously resembles the Waltons. This is largely unrealistic.Mary’s favorite holiday rule: Plan for what you can do and be happy with the results. No one will remember that the candles didn’t match or that the tablecloth was wrinkled. The holidays are about making memories and creating happy moments that people remember with joy.
  3. Shoot for success, not perfection, as my friend Alan Weiss says. Don’t worry about perfection. Think about what constitutes success for your holidays. Does it mean hosting one great cocktail party? Getting Christmas cards out before Valentine’s Day? Baking Grandma’s cookies for the neighbors and the office?If you know ahead of time what success means, you are more likely to be happy with the results.
  4. Outsource what you can. Now may be the time to get help hanging Christmas lights, cleaning the house, and preparing food. Use your resources, and consider hiring some help to decrease your stress level.
  5. Use technology to streamline tasks and improve your own quality of life. Last year, for the first time, I sent out an electronic Christmas letter. I realize that some folks think that misses the personal touch, but it allowed me to craft a pretty fun newsletter with pictures, updates, and all of my contact information. For my friends who don’t have email, I simply printed the newsletter and mailed it to them. It saves on postage, saves on addressing envelopes, and is environmentally friendly.
  6. Coop your friends. For those fun but sometimes time-consuming tasks such as tree-trimming, cookie baking, and log chopping, get together with friends and make doing whatever you need to accomplish a party. I always love cookie swaps, and I was delighted to be invited to one in early December. I love trying other people’s recipes and having a chance to talk with friends. The assortment of cookies then becomes my go-to dessert when I attend other holiday parties.
  7. Over communicate. During November and December, most people are overcommitted, short of time, and even shorter on attention. Help each other by reminding people of appointments, gatherings, meetings, and parties. Just because the event made it to that person’s calendar does not mean that it is in the forefront of their mind. So back each other up. Drop your friends an email note or give them a call, “I’m looking forward to seeing you on Friday at 12:15 at the Marriott. Do you need a ride?” or “I just wanted to see what time you are going to arrive at the party on Saturday night.” It helps brings those events into focus, and your friends will get a little serotonin rush when they are reminded that they are going to see you. For the introverted people, sometimes holiday parties are a source of stress. Your reaching out to them makes them feel as though their attendance matters, and it increases their chances of coming.
  8. Offer specific support. The holidays are a sad time for some people, especially for introverted people, people in a new area, those away from family or friends, and military families with deployed service members. Watch for signs of depression or isolation among friends, families, colleagues, students, and employees.Businesses and managers need to be especially mindful of how their people are doing. Depression rates soar during the holidays because people often expect the holidays to be a magical time of happiness. When those expectations are disappointed, people can become depressed. Inclusion is the key to solving problems of isolation. Reach out to others and invite them to events. Follow up to make sure they know that you sincerely want them to be part of the gathering.
  9. Give yourself a present of presence. Try to enjoy each little moment, rather than worrying about what is going to happen in six hours (I know, and I am a planning person, but too much of that can get in the way of enjoying the moment). Focus being in the moment and enjoying whatever is happening right now.Tim Saunders recommends substituting the words “have to “ with “get to.” I get to pick up the kids at school. I get to set the holiday table. I get to see my friends and family at a party tonight. Just substituting those verbs on your to-do list creates a sense of gratitude.Many people postpone enjoyment because they mentally feel as though they need to gear up for enjoyment. Take the time to be happy now.
  10. Make giving a part of the season. Try to practice anonymous and random acts of kindness. Many of us know people who really do not need another single thing in their homes or their lives. So please consider supporting a charity or giving a goat, or a chicken or a cow or a rabbit in the name of your gift recipient. Organizations such as or provide livestock and resources to people and villages who desperately need sustainable food resources. It can save lives, and it makes for a unique and worthwhile gift.

Please enjoy a stress-free holiday!


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